Desperate Dan who heads this blog flourished for years in the Dandy comic, produced in Dundee but of world-wide circulation. He is a well-built cowboy who eats gigantic cow pies but he is never guilty of any cruelty or aggression to man woman child or beast. A gentle strongman and good role model, he is a good contrast to American dentist Walter Palmer who killed Cecil a Zimbabwean lion that was friendly towards humans. He shot it with an arrow leaving it dying in pain for over forty hours. The pictures of him and a pal celebrating the kill of another lion show them grinning moronically over a dead beast that was certainly more noble and probably more intelligent than them. I’m sure that genuine hunters will despise this slaughter as much as I do, but it does raise a question about our relationship to the earth and its creatures.

The Christian tradition has been not altogether helpful in this matter. The book of Genesis is anthropocentric in its basic assumption that humanity is superior to animals, albeit responsible for their welfare. The fact of the inter- dependence of human beings and all living things was unknown to the Genesis writer.

Nevertheless, the Genesis account of the garden of Eden envisages some kind of vegetarian diet for the human beings and maybe also for animals. Once human beings are expelled from Eden, they are permitted to eat animals. Indeed there is a hint that death is one of God’s second thoughts, brought in to limit the amount of evil one person can do, but opening the door to killing, which becomes a feature of human life almost immediately. It’s reasonable to say that killing animals for food is permitted by the God of Genesis because human beings are a mixture of good and evil.

Another triumph
Another triumph

The Hebrew bible gives us a prophecy in Isaiah chapter 11 which speaks of a messianic time when all wrongs will be righted and all conflict will cease. Animals that prey upon each other will be reconciled, and all living creatures including humanity will be at peace. This “peaceable Kingdom” is one of the Bible’s most moving visions, but it never became a major part of Jewish or Christian theology.

The Jesus tradition adds little to the Hebrew bible in this regard. Although he says that God is concerned at the death of a sparrow, he goes on to say that the Father is even more concerned about human welfare. The tradition credits him with destroying a herd of pigs in the course of curing a demon- possessed man, so the view that humanity comes first and other creatures a long way back, is if anything reInforced by Jesus.

Classical Christian theology, as for example the writings of Thomas Aquinas, denies that animals have souls or can be any part of God’s salvation. The great figure of St Francis with his love for all creatures may seem to contradict the mainstream theology, but his witness has no lasting effect on Orthodoxy, Catholic or Reformed traditions. We also know that Christianity  encountered throughout its history other kinds of religion in which the inter-dependence of all life was asserted, and animals given a more important place, but it rejected all these as primitive and degrading.

It’s not surprising therefore that Christian civilisations have been fairly careless about the welfare  of animals,  except those they regard as pets. Lack of respect for the lives of other creatures and of the enlightened self-interest that might protect the web of life that supports human life, are so common that to challenge them is considered extreme by most “Christian” societies.

This where we need to ask a theological question: if the Jesus tradition is held to provide everything necessary for salvation, that is for our rescue from evil, and it contains nothing about the welfare of other creatures or our common environment, does that relegate concern for the earth and its creatures to the margins of Christian morality? Or can we judge our tradition and Jesus himself to be deficient in this matter?

Dan, Dog and friend
Dan, Dog and friend

Jesus himself and the Jesus  tradition have encouraged human beings to see their interdependence with each other, and to learn how to live in “partnership” with each other, across the barriers of terrain, race and culture. It therefore does not seem to me unreasonable to extend this partnership to our fellow creatures. But it would be a very radical change in our thinking and living. Not only that, it would place this theological development amongst the “truths” into which Jesus expected the spirit to lead us, and our comprehensive care for the earth among the “greater things” that Jesus expected us to do.

In this case, Jesus’ “extremism” is not in his teaching but in his clear insistence that his teaching and example would not provide all that his followers needed for their salvation. Now a religious leader who denies that he has the whole truth, is a real extremist who should command our trust.

Such a change would align Christianity with contemporary science which has jettisoned the misunderstanding of evolution as the survival of the fittest and considers  that any species that destroys its environment, destroys itself. Biology and the Earth Sciences emphasise the myriad interconnections of all living things with each other and with the  planet.

As for Mr. Palmer and those who share his pleasure in killing, we should explain to them patiently as to idiots, that we cannot let them kill our animals, but that we could give them a decent reservation, maybe in Syria, or North Korea, where they can hunt and kill each other, to their hearts content.

As the Government has set up an extremism unit under Lord Ahmed to root out the ideologues who are turning nice Muslim boys and girls into willing killers -by the way, nobody asks what turns nice British boys and girls into people who will kill when a superior officer orders them to do so – but yes, to root out ideologues of extremism, then we should try to work out some definition of extreme ideology.

At present that’s an easy enough question to answer: it’s the sort of thing Jeremy Corbyn stands for. This perverse and dangerous contender for the leadership of the British Labour Party is considered by all reasonable people, as well as the slightly unreasonable majority of his colleagues, to be disseminating extreme views that are so different from the view held by most rich people living in South of England, that he ought to be silenced, possibly for ever.

His views are these, as far as I can determine:

1. Britain should get rid of its nuclear deterrent, because its immoral, useless and expensive.

2. The richer two thirds of citizens ought to be taxed a bit more to provide better infrastructure, public services and adequate benefits for the one third who are poor.

3. Essential public services should be under public ownership e.g. rail transport

4. The Government should be aware of the destructive aspects of the capitalism under which we live, and should act to ameliorate these as far as is possible.

Clearly this man is off his trolley. If such proposals, God forbid, were ever implemented, Britain would cease to be a playground for rich persons of diminished humanity and become the grim. grey, socialist state it was before the advent of the Blessed Margaret Thatcher.

Extremist Terrorist Peacekeeper

Mmn.. yes… I remember that Britain, it’s the one in which I spent half my life, created by the Labour Party after the war, but maintained by other extremists like Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Ted Heath. It was a country where patriotism was not limited to smacking Johnny Foreigner, but included ideals of public service, education for all and the abolition of poverty. It meant that, for example, it was a good deal easier for me to go to University than it is for any young person today. It meant that there were large amounts of affordable housing for people who couldn’t afford mortgages. It meant that I gladly paid National Insurance so that I could have free access to the best health care in the world. So …maybe …I’m an extremist too, namely, a person who regrets his children live in a state that is less just than the one he grew up in.

But when I think of it, maybe, just maybe, all those smart young women and men who have no place for justice in their lives, maybe they are the extremists, supporters of a triumphant commercialisation of human life, which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Maybe, just maybe, in spite of their high salaries, chic houses, cool clothing and honours degrees in business management from the best universities, they are nothing more than empty suits, zombies in whose perfectly ordered teeth we see the grin of Conspicuous Consumption, the true God of our time.

So let me drop all irony and invite my readers to refuse the definition of extremism which is being imposed by the pimps of Capital. Judged by any of the world’s great religions or by the best wisdom of its humanists, contemporary liberal economics is an extreme religion that deifies Greed and persecutes those who will not bow down to their God. That well-known extremist, Jesus of Nazareth, said that it’s impossible to worship God and Wealth; and that the careless rich are going to end up in the place without pity, of which they are the true creators.

Rev. David Robertson, Free Church minister in Dundee, and Moderator of the Free Church Assembly, is a man who has often aroused my admiration. His witty rebuttal of Richard Dawkins, for example, was good at exposing the naive and unsupported assumptions made by that crusader against religion, while his frequent sorties into the public prints to defend traditional Christian ethics are often admirable and always vigorous.

So at first sight I found lots I could agree with in his attack on the mass media, and especially the BBC for badgering the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, about his acknowledged Christian faith. I too found John Humphries’ tone overbearing, designed more to bully the interviewee than inform the listener. He kept asking him whether God would tell him what policies to support, while Farron insisted that he was praying for wisdom not answers. David Robertson comments that it is unlikely an atheist leader would be similarly badgered about his lack of faith. He also notes that while faith is routinely treated with scepticism by the BBC, all forms of sexual orientation are treated as holy.

Holy Bible
Holy Bible

Now this last point is true enough- a little more scepticism about say, trans-lesbo-bi-ness might be in order- but it reminds me that David Robertson is one of those opposed to same-sex marriage, not out of prejudice (perish the thought!) but ultimately because the Bible tells him so. He along with many Christians, thinks that the Bible is inerrant, that is, it can’t be wrong. Unlike other books written by human beings it is so directly inspired by God, that once you’ve worked out what it says, you can’t argue with it. I italicised those words because of course, all language, even the language of God, requires interpretation, but that’s another argument. The point I’m making here is that if the Bible duly interpreted says homosexual acts are sinful, well, there’s no room for argument; God is right and you are wrong.

Now that seems to me dangerously near idolatry, in that the Bible has taken on the characteristics of God Himself. Perhaps the great British media are not too bothered about idolatry, but if some politician has a magic book that tells him infallibly what is right and wrong, that might be a legitimate area for scepticism. I don’t know that Tim Farron holds this view of the Bible, but if he does, I would no more vote for him than for a Muslim who believes the Noble Qur’an was dictated by Allah.

Noble Qur'an
Noble Qur’an

I don’t believe in books you can’t argue with, any more than did Jesus, who argued with the inerrant Book of his people. I love the Bible, write a Bible blog ( every day in life, and try to allow the living God to speak to me through its pages, but this only happens if I treat it, in all its magnificence, as human, and therefore, fallible.

In his defence of Tim Farron, David Robertson does not deal with this issue, but it is germane: would you trust a man who has a magic book? I’ll try to let David Robertson know about this blog, and invite his comments.

Desperate Dan pictured above in his Dundee statue, was a creation of the Dandy Comic, made in Dundee and read throughout Britian until recently, when it went online for lack of readers. DD was clearly an American cowboy but survived his comic exile in Scotland. There were never any complaints that the cow pie- eating hero did not share Scottish or British values. He was universal in his appeal.

David Cameron has once again targeted Muslim citizens as being insufficiently opposed to the thugs who claim Islamic justification for crimes against humanity, and insufficiently militant in favour of “British values”. He has never defined fully these values but has mentioned respect for the rule of Law and recognition of pluralism as the basis of society.

imageThe roots of a pluralistic UK go back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophers who opposed the notion of one religion for all citizens of the state, and proposed that people of differing faiths could have a common interest in recognising each other’s faiths as legitimate. They took it for granted that a person’s primary allegiance would be to his own God, but that a genuine civic allegiance could be offered to the laws of the state including those that permitted mutual toleration of religious groups. Vestiges of the older notion of one approved religion lingered in the establishment of the churches of England and Scotlland, and in laws excluding Roman Catholics from certain positions of state.

Given the understanding that religion might determine the eternal destiny of the soul, no-one expected that anyone’s first loyalty would be given to the state; and even non-religious moral convictions, such as those that kept Bertrand Russell out of the First World War, were recognised as legitimate acts of conscience.

Now the Britisn Prime Minister is harassing one religious group to declare their allegiance to Britain and Bristish values as if adherents of all other religious groups had already declared such allegiance and were paid up members of the Britsih Values Club.

This is based on the apparently world-shaking discovery that some kinds of Islam are “ideological” meaning they say things about the real world, including the foreign policy of the UK and the USA. Much of what is expressed is crude and wrong, being designed to justify violence. The Government therefore should enter into public debate and prove them wrong. But asking Muslims to treat British (government)  values as of equal importance to their faith is foolish and very unlikely to succeed.

Real victims of western policy. and Isil violence: Christian woman and child made homeless.
Real victims of western policy. and Isil violence: Christian woman and child made homeless.

One aspect of this harassment is particularly insidious: the identification of widely-held Muslim views on the status of women as one aspect of the “extreme ideology”. It is true that many Muslims hold views on this topic which I think are pernicious but which my great grandparents would have taken for granted.The idea that anyone who holds to such primitive beliefs and does not welcome with open arms the wonderful UK culture that sexualises girls from the age of three, is a proto- terrorist, is so loopy and self-defeating that it can only come from a politician. In fact, one of the successes of Isil propaganda is the way it makes young women feel wanted and given a key role in the coming caliphate. Their propaganda is a lie, but it will not be countered by urging British versions of female equality which are immediately refuted by pictures of naked and semi- naked women everywhere. In any case lumping socially conservative Muslims with terrorists is surely poor tactics.

Although the critique of British Foreiign policy by Isil is sectarian and anti- Jewish, it is not utterly without substance. Why has the UK engaged in violent conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and why is it considering  armed action in Syria? The answer has less to do with fundamental values than with perceived opportunities of national interest. One of the most powerful answers to Isil would be a very public review of our part in these conflicts.

Above all however we should show trust that adherents of one of the  world’s great religions will be able to oppose a bunch of heretical thugs without constantly being harangued by people who have little understanding of their or any faith. As a Christian believer I have opposed much of British foreign policy in the name of Jesus and am critical of the laissez faire economic values of this government. I guess that makes me an extremist, radicalised by the cunning ideology of Jesus Christ, and even worse, a person with a warped narrative about my country.

I hope that Christian citizens whose allegiance to Jesus comes before allegiance to the state, and who may also be critical of our foreign policy, will publicly defend their Muslim brothers and sisters from


government interference in their faith, and will encourage them to find resources in their own faith to dismiss the violent pretensions of Isil.

We are a pluralistic society because we consider that many religions express values which do not be long to any one culture or region, and will therefore oppose sectarianism and nationalism. We should have confidence that the Muslim citizens of Britain are already doing this in ways that no Government can prescribe.

The following was written in the West Highland Free Press by Rev. Professor Donald McLeod of the Free Church. He was in effect, sacked for writing it; rightly so, in my opinion.

All minorities prefer to keep a low profile and avoid trouble. Generations of British Muslims have done exactly that, many have made an invaluable contribution to British society, and many are perfectly prepared to listen quietly while Christians ‘witness’ to them. But when minorities become majorities, things change, as German Jews discovered in the 1930s. Once the Nazis achieved ascendancy, friendly German neighbours suddenly became informants for the Gestapo; and in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.

Have we any protection? Tighter immigration controls bring their own complications. We cannot close our doors on asylum-seekers simply because they’re Muslims, nor can we set up border-controls which specifically target Muslims. That would simply raise the level of Islamic paranoia, and they already have countless spokesmen prepared to ‘explain’ that if Muslims behead a soldier it’s no more than a natural response to the way they were treated in school.”

Readers will see that there are no facts here, just the naked fears and prejudices of a sadly weakened intellect. There is absolutely no evidence that British Muslims will allow an influx of extreme radicals to tell them what to do, far less of the inability of the UK or Scottish societies to resist religious totalitarianism. I was once privileged to hear the late Pastor Martin Niemoeller say that he had expected only evangelical Christians would be able to stand against evil, but in Nazi prison camp he found a vast mixture of fellow resisters, many of them communist atheists, as well as liberal Christians whom he’d always despised. McLeod’s contempt for secular society is evident in his paranoia.

And yes, of course, good Muslims are defined by whether they are prepared to “listen quietly” while Christians make their witness to them. They mustn’t feel insulted, or resentful, that representatives of a society that so recently ruled theirs by imperial force, or invaded theirs illegally with the USA, should preach to them about the Prince of Peace. And doubtless they mustn’t reply by sending their missionaries into Christian communities to reach the young people whom Christianity has so miserably failed.

McLeod’s injured innocence, projected in his blogs and in interviews, is surely false: you can’t compare a whole religious community to Nazis and expect a decent newspaper to treat it simply as an interesting minority opinion.

The saddest aspect of McLeod’s diatribe is that it could have been written by any red-necked rabble – rouser, when the least you could expect of a distinguished Professor of theology was some evidence that he had studied Islam or could cite chapter and verse from the Qur’an.

I am not tolerant of intolerance and am fiercely opposed to certain strains of Islamic belief and practice. It is at least arguable that the United Nations may have to resist certain Islamic Groups by force. But as regards our own civil society I think that the most effective opposition to violent Islam is our maintenance of an open and pluralist society, combined with neighbourliness towards Muslim and other religious communities in our midst. We should be able to persuade the vast majority of people that freedom under such laws is preferable to being told what to do by crazed ayatollahs, or supposing a Christian revival, by crazed Presbyteries of the Free Church.

As regards violent religious faith whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu, however, I think that the most effective opposition is radical discipleship of Jesus, the crucified Messiah, who commanded love for enemies, lived by it and died by it.

Readers of the previous blog will know that I interpret the so-called parable of the Last Judgement as applying first of all to the nations gathered at the throne of the “Humane Ruler ” ( Son of Man). As this is not the usual interpretation and as it makes the parable more explicitly political than usual, people may ask me phow certain I am of it. I would reply that interpretation is not a exact science and that usual interpretations usually have something going for them. So of course I am not certain, but I think it a reasonable and defensible interpretation even if it is a bit disturbing to Christian believers who have a liberal fundamentalist view of economics. According to my interpretation nations will be judged by how they treat Jesus who identifies himself with the most vulnerable citizens in society.

It does not however, specify by what means the state is to make sure that the vulnerable are treated with justice. Obiviously neither the Roman Empire nor the kingdom of Judaea was a welfare state, nor perhaps could Jesus have envisaged such a thing. Nevertheless Jesus’ attribution of responsibility to the nation is not unprecedented. His Jewish tradition expresses this responsibility in the Torah. God gives the land to the people on condition that they do not worship idols and that they care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Every fifty years debts have to be cancelled and slaves freed. Obviously these commands can only be obeyed by individuals and groups of people, but the people as a whole is made accountable for seeing that they are obeyed, that just people are honoured and unjust people called to account. The leaders of the people, especially their kings are judged by whether they have ruled by God’s justice rather than by gross national product or foreign conquest.

Justice = cowpie for all not just one
Justice = cowpie for all not just one

Not only the lawgivers but also the Jewish prophets of God insist that God’s just law must be applied to societal as well as personal relations. We know from the gospels that Jesus was known as a prophet, that is, he spoke the message of God’s justice with authority rather than referring to scriptures or teachings of rabbis. His parables show that he was aware of some of the socio- economic conditions of the time, including debt, absentee landlords, foreign occupation and the like. It is therefore at least likely that his parable of judgement refers to whole societies, and that he expected his own and other nations to have laws that prescribe measures of social justice and to implement them. The Jewish laws of social justice did not prescribe action by the state, but by the leaders, by religious officials and by communities and families in the land. As I indicated in yesterday’s blog, social care may be enabled by the state but it must be delivered by individual persons. Welfare on the other hand can be both enabled and delivered by the state. In Jesus’ nation, alms-giving for the destitute was organised through the temple priesthood and probably through the leaders of local synagogues.

When Jesus identified the true king, the humane ruler, with the least important in the land, he was emphasising a kind of restorative justice as the first duty of government: the rich and those with adequate wealth can look after themselves; the vulnerable cannot, and must be helped. If you accept my argument and agree that the parable of judgement applies to societies, you may still question the kind of sanction that Jesus used. His only sanction is what scholars call eschatological: the just are going to eternal life; while the unjust are going to eternal punishment.

So do I believe that people responsible for justice will be rewarded by God and people responsible for injustice will be punished by God? image


If God doesn’t do that, I can’t see the point of Him or Her. It’s not up to me to try to imagine how this will happen. Dante Alighieri has done that in his divine comedy, which is based on the idea that even those who are in hell have got what they want. It is of course a vast parable itself, but I find it far more acceptable than modern notions of a God for whom justice is not a priority.

Does this mean that I preach heaven and hell?

Yes. Disgraceful, isn’t it?

If I end up there I expect to meet Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and other great monsters of injustice, along with George W Bush and Tony Blair, if they don’t get round to repenting Iraq and Eurozone leaders, if they don’t get round to repenting Greece.

Yes, it’s that disgraceful.

According to Matthew, Jesus told this parable of God’s Rule. I should say that “Humane Ruler” is my translation of the literal “Son of Man” and that I have good reasons for it. It is perhaps the most political of all Jesus’ utterances.chip

25/31 “But when the Humane Ruler comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

37 “Then the just ones will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

40 “The King will answer them, ‘Amen I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters , you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you did not give me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’

44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I tell you, because you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the just into eternal life.”

We should note that it is “nations” that are gathered before the ruler and that the separation is national rather than individual; nations are judged, rather than persons. The ruler asserts his scandalous identity with the least important of his brothers and sisters, a folk story motif by which Gods or kings in disguise visit their realm incognito as poor people to see how they are treated. The actions by which the nations are judged may be encouraged or discouraged by the nation, but the actions themselves are personal acts of practical care. Jesus considers the nation blessed or cursed by the degree to which such care is provided. Care may be fostered and planned by the state but it must be delivered by people to people.

The categories of care are basic: hunger, thirst, nakedness, illness, imprisonment, together with the condition of being a stranger. Most of them are easily understood, but it’s worth pointing out the in Jesus’ time, people were rarely put in prison for a ordinary crime but were perhaps awaiting trial or had committed a political offence. A stranger might be a trader, soldier, slave, agent of Rome, itinerant philosopher or preacher.prisonvisit1_jpg

Societies stand or fall by how their citizens provide this care Those who provide it do not do it for the Ruler but simply for people with no status in society. We note that the society could be good at everything else without altering its condemnation. The cause of the Ruler and the cause of the unimportant are identical; and the latter are not “deserving” just unimportant.

Once when I had preached on this text in church, an elder said to me as he left, “Thanks minister, I hope it’s not true.” He was more honest than most of us. If the judgement happened now there would be quite a number of people frying tonight.

It is widely believed that the destruction and humiliation of the German state after the first world war, paved the way for the Nazi terror. It is clear that the destruction of the Iraqi state by the UK and USA has provided the conditions for the rise and establishment of Islamic State terror. Destruction and humiliation of a perceived enemy, which involves the weakening of its legal authorities and the bonds of its civil society has frequently led to lawless violence and cruelty.

Angela Merkel, brought up in Communist East Germany, ought to understand this sort of history enough to take it as a warning but shows no signs of having done so. The terms of the Greek bailout are obviously designed to say to the Greek people, “You are lazy and shiftless. You have voted for a government and a policy that appears contrary to our interests but you want us to give you money. Well, you can only have it if you get on your knees and beg us, and even then we’ll make it clear we have no respect for you or your government.”

One likely outcome is the collapse of this Greek government and the division of its people into violently opposing camps. And there are statesmen who might like to meddle in the resulting chaos, Mr Putin for one, Mr Erdogan for another. It is a prospect which I know wise people in Greece will struggle to avert, but it is by no means certain that they will succeed.

It is hard to exaggerate the frivolity with which the grave guardians of fiscal propriety in Europe have treated this issue. Relatively unimportant problems have been magnified and relatively huge problems ignored. Most crucially, they have forgotten the probable results of their folly: “Those to whom evil is done/ do evil in return” (W.H. Auden).

All of which is to say that the Golden Rule, as proposed amongst others by Confucius and Jesus, that you should not do to others what you would not wish done to you (negative form) or that you should treat others as you wish to be treated (positive form), is as applicable to national and international relations as it is to interpersonal. Obviously amongst today’s international moralists such a view will be treated with the contempt it deserves. Wake up and smell the coffee, I will be told. Well, a pastor’s daughter like Angela should not need me to tell her that she is responsible to One who may be a deal more scary than the Bundesbank or the International Monetary Fund.

The figure of Desperate Dan, above, in the centre of Dundee, is a working class icon, an energetic kindly superman who is always working, if he is not eating cow pies. It’s a reflection of Scottish working class ethos, with its view that real men ought to be heroes and providers, while women ought to be heroines and sustainers. I use the word class because it defines groups of people according to their role in our economy.

The greatest factor in the decline of this class in Scotland is the almost complete absence today of the sort of heavy industries, mining, ship- building, vehicle production, steel manufacture and others, which employed so many working class people in the past. Since those jobs ceased to exist, some working class people have adapted to work in the service, commercial and modern technology sectors while others have become dependent on unskilled jobs and benefits. At the same time, Trades Unions have been legislated into relative impotence. The huge reduction in public housing initiated by Margaret Thatcher has greatly reduced the ability of local councils to provide accommodation for the working class most of whom have become home-owners, while others live at the mercy of rapacious landlords or in poorly maintained properties.

Desperate Dan a working class man
Desperate Dan a working class man

These economic and political changes which have weakened the power of working class people by dividing them into haves and have-nots are part of the development of capitalist economics from 1980 to the present day, which are influenced by the power of banks and multi-national companies over populations whose livelihoods depend on the international movements of capital. The kind of economic measures seen in the recent UK budget, reducing essential welfare benefits while setting a new minimum living wage, are relatively benign (!) expressions of an ideology that is utterly opposed to communal solutions to social problems and totally committed to solutions that place all responsibility on individuals however incapacitated they may be.

Added to these fundamental convictions of capitalist economics is a magical belief in growth: with the right economic framework economies will grow, that is, gross domestic product will rise, and increased wealth will gradually trickle down even to the feckless poor.

Clearly as regards Scotland I am talking about relative poverty; by world standards almost all Scots have enough income to survive, although the lives of the poorest are blighted by illness, stress and premature death.

Much of this is entirely unnecessary. It is the result of an ideology that favours the possessors and accumulators of wealth by persuading people our nations are poor and cannot  afford to be  socially creative, when we are amongst the richest societies that have ever existed. Our wealth is socially created but the ideology pretends that that is due to the individual skills and energy of so-called entrepreneurs, and that therefore a disproportionate reward should be given to them. In fact, the greatest rewards go a handful of global corporations.image

A proof of the effectiveness of this ideology can be seen in the provision of age-care in Scotlland today. As people live longer and as the family life of their children is more and more geared to making money than to the care of family members, the need for residential and home care of the elderly increases. Because we have let market forces set the price of such care, the pay of care workers is little if at all above the national minimum wage, and conditions of work are very poor. The result is that our elderly relatives are consigned to the care of the some of the poorest people in our nation, in many cases, recent female immigrants. This reveals our values; people who have a vital caring role for vulnerable human beings are paid next to nothing, while people who play football, or sell armaments are paid millions.

The above is my brief and disputable analysis. It contains no mention of Jesus. The reason for that omission is that Jesus had little or nothing to say about economic policy.  Jesus had no doubt that God’s justice favoured the poor, but he had no policy suggestions for the Roman government; he had no doubt that the unrepentant rich were going to hell, but he had no plans for swingeing taxation that would prevent them getting there.

if we say that Jesus was creating a community that valued all its members equally, used the willingly given resources of the rich to enable the lives of the poor, and the human gifts of the poor to enhance the lives of the rich, we will have said almost all we can about Jesus’ economic policy, which was based on the free generosity of God towards all creatures, including those lives had piled up heavy moral debts.

Jesus did not instruct his followers to offer a critique of social institutions but to be a critique, by virtue of the justice and compassion of their communal lives. We will see how Jesus’ one parable about societal behaviour, known as the Last Judgement, indicates what is desirable not by social statistics, but by  individual acts of human kindness.

Ship-workers 1929
Ship-workers 1929

This takes us towards an important conclusion: the Jesus Tradition does not give us the tools for criticising social policies, but simply requires that his followers treat people as equals, with justice and compassion. Developing social policies that achieve these outcomes, along with a critique of policies that prevent these outcomes, is the business of believers, like me, for whom social justice is a main concern. In that business believers have the freedom to draw from human traditions of social justice, as for example, socialism or conservatism, while not becoming prisoners of these traditions. A comprehensive justice that is generous to all creatures should be our aim. At best of course, we cannot identify our politics with those of Jesus; but if we have tried to build on his witness we should not be too apologetic about the results, which ought to be good news to the poor and challenging news to the rich.

“Do not pile up treasures on earth where moth and rust can spoil them and thieves can break in and steal.  But keep your treasures in heaven where there is neither moth nor rust to spoil it and nobody can break in and steal. For heart and treasure go together.”

Ah, this teaching is a killer! It tells me that my true self is with my savings. The money I have saved for my old age, for some luxuries meanwhile and some care when I need it, that’s where my heart is, he says.

Is he right?

At first I reluctantly agree with him. I know he wants me to trust in God’s provision, on the model of the flowers and the birds.

But then I rebel against his daft presumption. Had he never seen a dried up flower or a starved bird? And anyway birds look out for their own interests with some skill and vigour. So he can’t have been so daft as not to know that I have to work and save for myself and my dear ones.

With this in mind I look at his words again. Perhaps “treasure” is the word that needs interpretation. It means the things that are precious to me. So do I regard my earthly possessions as precious? Well, I suppose I like them well enough, they seem useful to me, but I would share them if there was a reason to do so .  On the other hand, I would resent a revolution in which private property was abolished. Does this mean that I am storing up treasure on earth?

Then again, I do regard many things that are not mine as treasure, the natural world especially along with the fruits of human creativity; social justice, the arts of healing, music, drama, literature, painting, sculpture, all of these and more are treasures I gladly share with others. Did Jesus mean any of these when he spoke of treasure in heaven? For him, heaven meant God and everything that shared God’s goodness. I think Jesus would have regarded anything inspired by God’s goodness as treasure in heaven, because its full enjoyment might only be possible in the time and place of God’s Rule.

So if I’m working out my status in the light of Jesus’ teaching, I have to admit a greater love of  earthly treasure than he advocated along with a modest love of heavenly treasure.

But his words won’t let me go. They ask me if I’ve really reckoned with the unreliability of all earthly goods subject as they are to human evil and natural decay; and the complete reliability of all things that share God’s goodness.

“fading is the worldling’s treasure

all his boasted pomp and show;

solid joys and lasting pleasure

none but Zion’s children know”

I hope it may be so and that my tentative faith will be exposed as a fault and forgiven.